The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers’ Roll of Honour

the new book which allows additional names to be added to the Roll of Honour

This week’s offering at the virtual pub was a fascinating talk by  Alan Regin, Keeper of  the CCCBR Rolls of  Honour of the fallen ringers who did not return from the I or II World Wars.  He provided the inspiration for the Ringing Remembers campaign, the idea to use the anniversary of the 1918 armistice as a rallying call to individuals to learn to bell ring, in the hope that the 1400 lost ringers would be “replaced” a century late.  Until his stewardship it had been a Roll of 1100 but Alan had managed to trace 300 more. The recruitment of 1400 new ringers was a symbolic gesture, but also a practical one – someone is needed to ring the bells.

I was one of more than 2500 who answered the call, and part of my interest was a family connection with a Norwich  19th century ringer. The advert to learn to ring filtered its way to me via our vicar, and the local meeting place for a taster session was at St Peter Mancroft church in Norwich.  I had long wanted to have a nose around the famous ringing room at SPM because I knew that my mother’s grandfather had been a Mancroft ringer and that there was a peal board that recognised this fact on the wall, so I trundled along as I thought it a good excuse to have a look.   My first grasp of a sally and something quite magical happened – I knew that I wanted to ring church bells.

Thus, Alan’s campaign to celebrate the lives of the lost 1400 was directly responsible for drawing me into the world of ringing.  If I had met him in real life I would have shaken his hand (or elbow bumped him or something similar). And having entered this strange world, the draw of my ancestors became stronger. Not only was my great grandfather one of the founder members of the NDA, his elder son was also a Mancroft ringer.  His younger son, my great uncle, died at Gallipoli. What are the chances that he too was a ringer?  A peal ringing father and older brother, a choice of Norwich rings? The odds are that he learnt from his father – it is what ringers do and have always done.  Since he died as a teenager, perhaps he never joined the NDA but that does not mean that he might not deserve a place in the Roll of Honour.  I intend to find out.

Alan provided an excellent lesson in contact tracing through his talk on Tuesday night.  They should give him the job of organising tracing COVID19 contacts, because even without access to Bluetooth data and all the other devices we 21st century people carry around, he has managed to trace hundreds of lost ringers through meticulous research and attention to detail. His talk began by focusing on one individual young man, who rang at a local Norfolk tower and whose name already appeared on the Roll of Honour. He checked out this individual, traced peal records, found photographs and then searched for other young men who rang with him.  Did they also appear on the roll?  Should they have appeared on the roll? Did they survive the war and ring in a later peal commemorating the life of their lost band member, sometimes their lost brother, or did they disappear sometime between 1914-18?  If they disappeared, is there a war record of their death?

 It was absolutely fascinating to see how threads were followed.  No doubt, many of the threads will have led to dead ends, as that is the nature of historical research of this kind, but we were shown a thread that continued its tangled path and picked up other young men along the way.  Thus we were treated to pre 1914 photos of shyly smiling young men, grouped outside church porches for their picture to be taken following a successful peal. One such group had an average age of 18 years.  Heartbreaking to think that half of these teenagers never lived beyond their 20s.  They were robbed of the chance to grow up, raise families, ring bells and live their lives, instead probably dying in some muddy hole in a foreign country. The same names appeared again and again in the peal reports of the time, in various combinations, just as the same names of accomplished ringers appear again and again in modern times. From identifying them in one photo,  Alan went on to identify them in other photos, and to pin-point the locations where the pictures were taken ( after all, most self- respecting bell ringers can spot a church porch and say “that is St Mary’s, Cambridge” without hesitation).  One older gentleman also crops up in the photos – a proper Victorian type with a suitably biblical name.  I am guessing he was their leader and mentor – who oversaw these kids’ first fumbling attempts to catch a sally.  How proud he must have been of them all and how devastated to lose so many of them.

So the poignant passage of a group of eager and talented young men through a few Edwardian summers was revealed to us.  Their trips to various towers, the peals they rang, their smiling faces in the sunshine. And then their names inscribed on the Roll of Honour and for some their gravestones in military cemeteries.

Since the work began on tracing missing ringers, hundreds more have been added to the list and a new book has been opened to include them, but there must be more names, not yet identified.  Not all ringers were members of associations and ringers of peals.  What about the more modest, Sunday ringers who never got much beyond Plain Bob? They were never photographed outside towers on summer tours.  Their names do not appear in guild annual reports.  Many tower records are lost or incomplete, so how do we trace them?

I am not sure, but there is one young man that I can try to trace and perhaps prove that his name should be inscribed with the others in the newly opened book.  Philip Sadler, pte 1st Essex Regiment was drowned when his ship, HMT Royal Edward was sunk by a german submarine. He was 19 years old.  His father kept ringing notebooks  (surprise, surprise) some of which are part of the Nolan Golen collection held by the Norfolk County Record Office.  As soon as it reopens I shall be down at the NCRO leafing through the record of my great grandfather’s ringing life, searching for the evidence that he and both his sons rang on a particular day at a particular place. If I find that evidence I shall be straight on to Mr Regin with the request that the name of another young ringer be added to the Roll.  And if my suspicions are correct, since Philip Sadler missed the opportunity to have a peal rung in his honour in 2018,  I shall ring a QP on the 105th anniversary of his death on 13/8/15, if I am allowed to. It may have to be virtual on Abel, but it will be a symbol and a recognition that he was not just a name but should have grown to be a man, my mother’s uncle, and a Norfolk ringer. 


  1. There are two definite Hampshire ringers killed in this incident and a third whose name was mentioned in the Ringing World at the time, but in such a way it wasn’t clear if he was actually a ringer. Interesting no know of another possible


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